Palestine

One of the last places on earth that many travellers think of when they are considering a global excursion is Palestine. It is true that when Palestine is in the news, more often than not it is for something highly undesirable for Palestinian people, and none too exciting for potential travellers either. It is also true, however, that when things are in a relatively calm stretch, the Occupied Territories have more than just a few surprises awaiting, not the least of which are the pleasant, welcoming smiles of the Palestinian people. In 2009, Palestine received 2.6 million tourists, over half of which were from overseas. Many of the visitors to Palestine either head directly for or end up visiting historical and religious sites in either East Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Highlights in the latter include, of course, the Church of the Nativity, which is sacred to Christians and Muslims, Sherpherd's Field, Solomon's Pools and the Salesian Cremisan Monastery, home to a convent and a winery. Other West Bank highs include Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, and Hebron, ancient capital of Israel that is holy for Jews and Muslims. Stops in Gaza include newly constructed amusement parks and the Bisan City tourist village, home to soccer fields, restaurants, playgrounds, a zoo, a swimming pool and gardens. Of course, there are caveats and what they are and what they pertain to changes frequently; that visitors should keep a keen eye on the goings on in the region before and during a trip here should go without saying. The current warnings from the Canadian government range from suggesting a high degree of caution throughout most of Palestine and Israel to avoid non-essential travel in some places and avoid all travel all together in others. Check the marquee above for the current warnings, and research other places as well. And, as always, let common sense prevail. ~ Samantha McDonald-Amara


A Heavily Conflicted and Ancient Land

A warm Palestinian family welcomeViolence, conflict, displacement and political unrest are just a few of the words that rush to mind when Palestine is mentioned. Terrorism, imprisonment and land partitions are a few more. Even if I knew where to stand on the Arab/Israeli conflict, I could not in good conscience use this travel site to toot a political horn; that's not what it was designed for. Rather, I'd like to share an intimate experience with a family I encountered while wandering about through the heavily conflicted and ancient land of Palestine.

I left Jerusalem after four solid days of world class exploration to venture onwards to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. For Christians, naturally, Bethlehem is of great historic and religious importance. After visiting the Church of Nativity, so called for the presumption of many as the location of Christ's birth, I wandered the ancient streets and alleyways, enjoying the call of fruit vendors in the market and the occasional "hello" tossed my way. As I sat to have coffee on a veranda over the bustling marketplace, I was engaged in conversation by three different people in the span of a few moments time. Having been in Jerusalem for the last four days and having sparse conversation at best, I knew immediately that Palestine would be different. I finished my coffee, politely excused myself and headed for the shared taxi station. Those few conversations in the cafe were the boosting motivation I needed to build some excitement for my West Bank journey. I hopped in a taxi with a group of strangers bound for Ramallah, the central locale of governance in Palestine which served as the home of the country's most familiar though former face: the late Yasser Arafat.

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 Current name: Palestinian Territories

 Population of the West Bank: 2.57 million  (excluding Israeli settlers)

 Population of the Gaza Strip: 1.604 million

 Area: 1.285 million sq.km. (496,225 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Arabic, Hebrew and  English

 Major religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity

 Monetary unit: Israeli Shekel

 GDP per capita: unknown

 Internet domain: .ps

 International dialling code: +970

 Source: CIA World Factbook and  Wikipedia